10 April


"Just as there is no way to bomb a city without killing civilians, there is no way to fight in a city without being close to them."

Carl Conetta, Project on Defense Alternatives

Internet site relies on war's news reports

By Scott Simonson


Media and the U.S. military record the bombs dropped during the war in Iraq, count the soldiers who die, tally the costs in dollars.

Iraqi civilians killed never become official statistics.

An Internet site - - operated mostly by U.S. and British college professors is attempting to count civilian casualties caused by the U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq, as reported by news agencies.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the site said at least 996 Iraqi civilians had been reported killed as a direct result of U.S. or coalition action since the war began.

The site says it attempts to provide a clearer view of overall civilian casualties than is provided by news coverage.

The Web site draws 120,000 visitors and hundreds of e-mails daily, said John Sloboda, a spokesman for the Web site and a professor of psychology at Keele University in England.

"In a sense, we're a clearinghouse," Sloboda said in a phone interview. "We are saying these are reports that the world's press thought fit to inform the world's listeners, viewers, readers. The truth is for a court, or a coroner."

The site's researchers monitor 30 major news sources, including Fox News, Al-Jazeera, The Associated Press and newspapers around the world.

When at least two independently agree on the details of an incident in which civilians were killed, it's added to the database.

The site doesn't claim to offer the true number of civilians killed in Iraq, Sloboda said, just a compilation of what the most reliable sources report.

More civilians could have died, he said, if not for scrutiny from those like researchers at the site.

"They want to contribute to restraining the conduct of those who are fighting the war," Sloboda said. "Without oversight from watchdogs, a much different kind of war could have been fought, without reservations of any kind."

Civilian casualties can be a "propagandistic football," used to justify or denounce U.S. strategy, said Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, a Massachusetts-based think tank for U.S. security and defense issues.

Conetta, who studied civilian casualties of U.S. aerial bombardment in Kosovo and Afghanistan, said his rough, preliminary estimate is that the war in Iraq will kill between 1,000 and 2,000 civilians.

"Just as there is no way to bomb a city without killing civilians," Conetta said, "there is no way to fight in a city without being close to them."

Some, but not a majority, of civilian deaths have come at the hands of Iraqi soldiers, he said.

* Contact reporter Scott Simonson at 434-4079 or